It naturally starts with the word, “why” – why choosing quantitative analytics? When growing up, I have always excelled in mathematics, physics, astronomy, and fine arts. I was offered a full scholarship to study abroad. As soon as my first semester started, there was a pop quiz on math. Following this exam, the professor informed me that I was at the level of a math major and suggested if I had ever thought of pursuing a career in this fascinating discipline. I was flattered since I had barely thought of dealing with numbers and data as a career choice!
My motto is “Never Say Never.” I had such wonderful opportunities to travel all around the world. I firmly believe in “Carpe Diem, Carpe Noctem, and Carpe Omnious,” meaning in Latin to seize the day, to seize the night, and to seize it all. Of course, during time away from work, I am an impressionistic painter and an avid movie buff. The latter makes me appreciate virtually our world through colors, settings, dialogs, music, and dance.
In retrospect, I have realized that, just like classical music, mathematics is such a beautiful discipline and profession! When listening to classical music, I could vividly imagine numbers, symbols, and notations flying so freely up in the air; conversely, mathematics equations look as if they were music scores to me. Once my mathematical skills grew more solid, statistics and data science naturally led me into the field of data analytics. I could spot the close connection and relationship between mathematics and many other disciplines, such as statistics, data science, quantitative analytics, etc. My doctoral dissertation was on signal processing and pattern recognition, closely related to image analysis, machine learning, and predictive modeling.
I would like to convey through my experiences as a “quantitative guru” is elements such as imagination and courage are important, particularly for women in technology. The following quote always stays fresh in my mind. A young Steve Jobs asked a vice-president at Pepsi-Cola, John Sculley: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Now, that’s called courage!
As a professional data scientist, I tend to think that there is no universally acceptable magical equation that will solve all of the career-related puzzles, dilemmas, and challenges. To be successful, one must become an expert in a particular subject matter or a specific career track, without being easily replaceable due to the lack of knowledge. Another suggestion is to acquire the useful skill of delegating tasks and not being hands-on all of the time. If an assignment is not within one’s comfort zone, then it is imperative to examine whether the task adds value and, if so, learn more about it and grow from the learning experience. Such selective strategies can infuse and unlock greater potential of the undertaking. Furthermore, it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to “sell” (i.e., to pitch) some ideas in an acceptable, collaborative, and tactful manner.
Everyone has a different and innate purpose in life, and he or she must come up with and come to terms with his or her own definition of happiness. There is hardly such a common panacea to guarantee the attainment of happiness, as everyone has his or her own version of the definition of happiness. Nevertheless, few will ever become inspiring leaders. I have been pondering on why it is not easy to break and then surpass an artificial ceiling, either “glass ceiling” or “bamboo ceiling.” For example, our Asian cultures share a common ground. At least unconsciously, if not consciously, we yearn for a great family and a stable life, and we wish for our family members to be completely free of any major illness or catastrophe. To achieve such a balance, Asians may opt to maintain “the doctrine of the mean” and value harmony, rather than constantly riding the ebbs and flows of unexpected tides. In effect, we may wonder why someone must travel that far and fly that high to pursue a goal that may or may not be tangible.
I am quite pleased to be recognized and featured as one of the Inspirational Women in Statistics and Data Science by Wiley and was one of the Outstanding Women in Data Analytics by Forbes. See additional interviews: “View from a Woman Statistician and Data Scientist in the Era of Big Data,” “Kelly Zou: Mathematics, Statistics, Data Science, and Dreams,” and “Kelly H. Zou on Real-World Evidence.”
Finally, a few useful tips to succeed and be popular in the field of quantitative analytics: strong technical skills, understanding of clear work processes and following them, a willingness to volunteer, a pleasant and outgoing disposition, an inspiring and aspiring attitude, appreciation and respect for the work of others as well as yourself, empowerment of others, and efficient organizational and time management. Metaphorically speaking, events in life can unfold dramatically as if they had been displayed on tarot cards via a fortune-teller. As someone who has studied probability theory, I often dream of drawing a card that is nonrandom and predictive. I truly treasure little serendipity here and there, which have entered into my life unexpectedly and seemingly “disrupted” my orderly existence — thereby capitalizing on opportunities that would not have occurred otherwise. I have always wished for many layers, facets, and dimensions within one’s lifetime. Like Brownian motion, little-unexpected events would bring out so many facets and colors. One life full of adventures can still be sufficiently satisfying.
Disclaimer: I am an employee of Pfizer Inc. Views and opinions expressed in this interview are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Pfizer Inc. This article was adapted from the original piece was published as part of “Humans of FDFZ,” featured by the Fudan Fuzhong Overseas Foundation. http://www.fdfzalumni.org/humans/kellyzou. It was also shared as a Member Spotlight by the Global Asian Alliance (GAA), New York Chapter, Pfizer Inc.
Meet Kelly Zou: Analytics expert, Music lover, and a lively soul.